For those of you who wish to avoid the chicken leg syndrome (skinny legs), I would like to present my calves 101 training guide! I find so often that men just don’t train their calves as much as they should. They might be doing squats and deadlifts but they forget about specific calf exercises in their leg routine. Don’t get me wrong, I know these two are foundation exercises which help with calves and other areas but in order to really work the calf muscles, you need to do specific training in order to overload this muscle group.
Women who feel their legs are muscular enough are usually describing a pair of thick legs that are mostly made up of fat and not lean muscle. They are afraid that their legs will get bigger but they don’t think about working on fat loss training which will make their legs look lean, toned and sexy. This is the ultimate goal of most women who go to the gym.
Mesomorphs tend to be better enhanced with muscle due to genetics, while others who perform certain activities like cycling will have larger muscle mass in their calves from years of training. Have you ever seen the calves on some of the triathletes you watch on TV? Their calves are massive and ripped!
For beginners, you can train your calves once per week but ideally you want to aim to hit them twice per week with a few days of rest in between workouts. Target your calf muscles with 5-7 sets of 8-30 reps. Lower reps with more weight should be used by anyone who wants to add additional size to their calves. Working toward the higher end of the repetition scheme with adequate weight may eventually bring you to a plateau. If this happens, you can go with the lower end again and use more weight while progressing this way over time to avoid future plateaus. Remember to always shock the muscle group with different training techniques, reps, sets and exercises to spur growth!
There are several machines you can use to target the calves like the leg press machine (seated, horizontal and inverted) and the hack squat machine. You can also do calf raises manually by holding dumbbells or by placing a barbell on your shoulders. Donkey calf raises are performed by bending over a table or stable surface with someone seated on your lower back. It’s easier than it sounds and you can go up in weight quickly. It is also safer than it sounds but you still want to go slow and be careful. Standing calf machines are great and you can use weight plates on some models which allows you to load additional weight on the machine which takes your ability to use heavy weight to new levels even though it’s a little hard on the shoulders and neck. Seated calf raises on the machine are great but they can be rather painful on the thighs once you get into really heavy weight. It can also be difficult to re-rack the weight when you have 4-5 plates on the machine so make sure to have the leg cushion set very tight against your thighs when using lots of weight in order to allow you to easily engage the lock mechanism on the machine when you’re finished with your set.
Choose 3 exercises for your calf workout and then change it up every 2-3 weeks to avoid any plateaus. I also like to change the angle of my foot position with my toes out during one set, then with my toes in on the next set, then a straight position on the following set. These different angles allow me to hit my calves from a bunch of different positions. Another variation is to change the speed of your reps. On some days, do faster reps called pulses and on other days perform super slow reps for a 10 second count to exhaust the muscle group.
Do not bounce on any of the movements and if you can, really try to do them on an elevated area like a step so that you can drop the heels down low enough to get a full range of motion. If your balance is not great, stand next to a wall when doing calf raises and do one leg at a time while holding the weight on the side being trained while you have the other leg up. Use your hand to hold the wall for stability.
By following these calf training tips, you will be able to overload your calves with specific muscle building movements to target the area and trigger muscle growth which will help anyone recover from the dreaded “chicken leg” syndrome!